Decarbonization shakes up the entire energy system
France, through its Stratégie nationale bas carbone (SNBC-2, 2019), is aiming for net-zero emissions. This demands, among other things, shrinking the territorial greenhouse gas emissions by a factor of at least 6. Achieving such goals will require a shift from the current primarily fossil-fuel-based energy system to one founded mainly on low-carbon electricity. This is a major change that will redistribute the roles and relative value of the energy carriers: electricity, gas, liquid fuels, wood, etc. It is not always easy to identify which energy carrier should be preferred for each use, in order to achieve carbon neutrality. Today, it is widely established that electricity will be called upon to directly cover the majority of uses. Energy from biomass, as well as hydrogen and its derivatives, are scarcer or more expensive and will essentially cover the uses that electricity will not be able to satisfy – these are the so-called “hard-to-abate” uses.
The French strategy for low-carbon hydrogen, resulting from the France Relance and France 2030 plans, is endowed with 9 billion euros by 2030. “Becoming the leader in green hydrogen”, including the creation of electrolyser gigafactories, is one of the ten objectives of France 2030.
Hydrogen can or will be used, mainly:
- In so-called “specific” uses: production of ammonia, from which nitrogen fertilizers are derived; refining of liquid fuels; iron ore reduction (primary steel production), as a replacement for coal-based processes.
- In “energy” uses: industrial heat; combustion in gas turbines for electricity production; in fuel cells, notably in vehicles; and to produce synthetic liquid fuels (e-fuels), through recombination with a carbon source.
In addition, ammonia, derived from hydrogen and much more easily transported by ship, can be used as a fuel in industrial installations, for example for electricity production, or for naval propulsion.
The dividing line between the relevance of electricity and that of other carriers is still uncertain. This is the case, for example, for long-distance overland transport. However, “no-regret” uses of hydrogen can already be identified. These are essentially the “specific” uses: both the current specific uses and, very likely, the production of primary steel.